When I was first introduced to the world of craft cocktails, published literature on the subject was sparse at best. But now, the publishing world is swollen with books that rank alongside the classics we love.
We've seen a few trends in motion: Bars continue to publish their own compendiums of work, and individual cocktails are getting more attention than ever. These days, the books are more visually appealing as well, as authors tap some of the industry's best photo talent to fill the pages with beautiful images; this really helps bring each subject to life and tempt the senses to check out more recipes than your average photo-less recipe book might.
Just since 2014 alone, the shelves have filled with really impressive new cocktail books. Here's your guide to the best new books to check out, and a few that should be on your radar for the next year or two to come.
Technical Skills and Science
In this brave new world of boozing, we're lucky to have industry professionals whose interests are broadening beyond finding great cocktail recipes. Now, there's an emerging bounty of books dedicated to the art and science of distillation, cocktail making technologies, and techniques.
Portland bartender Jeffrey Morgenthaler (who is known for his mad DIY skills) has created an excellent guide to the fundamental basics and clever tricks needed for making drinks with ease. There are tips here that many cocktail-lovers won't have seen before, all presented in an easy-to-digest way, complete with visual instructions and measurements where appropriate. An exceptional guide for beginners, but also great for experienced cocktail makers who are looking to to brush up on their technique.
Booker and Dax's Dave Arnold takes a more scientific approach to cocktail making in this substantial encyclopedia. If you've ever been interested in the nitty gritty details of processes like carbonation, temperature, and acidity, this is your guide. For the average drinker, the text gets a bit dense, but for seasoned experts it's an invaluable resource for finding ways to make better drinks by thinking like a mad scientist.
Meehan's Manual by Jim Meehan (Fall 2016)
The force behind the PDT Cocktail Book is back, this time with a "professional bartender's guide," inspired by vintage texts like Harry Johnson's Bartender's Manual and Charles Mahoney's Hoffman House Bar Guide. Meehan interviewed 40 industry colleagues to get their experiences and expertise for the book, which he says will cover topics like "spirits production, cocktail preparation, service, bar design, history, and more."
Books From Bars We Love
As well-established watering holes get more serious about their art, it only makes sense that they'll all start putting out recipe books. After all, that's what America's most famous restaurants do, right? Why shouldn't bars follow suit? Here's a recently-released favorite and previews of a few more to come.
By far the best cocktail book release from a bar to date hit stands last fall from the team behind the venerable New York bar Death & Company. Author and bar owner David Kaplan calls it a "love letter" to the experience of drinking in the East Village bar, and the book is just that—part narrative about the history of Death & Co. complete with short essays written by its regulars, and part guide for those who hope to learn more about the Death & Co. team's cocktail creation process.
There's a standard breakdown of tools and ingredients, but then it goes above and beyond with nitty gritty details I haven't seen in other cocktail books; I've completely nerded out over the breakdown of how to taste and evaluate cocktails (complete with flavor wheel!) and the flavor pairings section illustrating which ingredients pair best with certain spirits. There are few if any downsides in this gorgeous and thorough compendium. It's perfect for both beginners and granular nerds like myself, meaning they've set an impossibly high bar for others to follow.
The Dead Rabbit Drinks Manual by Sean Muldoon, Jack McGarry, and Ben Schaffer (October 2015)
If Dead Rabbit Grocery & Grog's new cocktail book, subtitled "Secret Recipes and Barroom Tales From Two Belfast Boys Who Conquered the Cocktail World", is anywhere near as impressive as the bar itself (it's won too many awards to list), we're in for a treat when this book hits shelves this October. The manual will cover an assortment of historically-inspired drinks created at the bar, including punches, fizzes, cobblers, and a special section on absinthe. But what managing partner Jack McGarry says makes the book unique is that it also addresses "the narrative of our journey to The Dead Rabbit; what shaped our philosophy and execution with the bar."
The Nomad Cocktail Book by Leo Robitschek (October 2015)
When the New York hotel restaurant (helmed by Chef Daniel Humm of Eleven Madison Park) releases its first cookbook next fall, purchases will come with the hidden addition of a full cocktail book as well, inspired by the Prohibition-era practice of discreetly tucking cocktail books inside more innocent tomes. Penned by bar director Leo Robitschek, the not-so-mini book will include more than 200 recipes from the bar, covering aperitifs, classics, and what they're calling "light spirited," "dark spirited," and "soft" cocktails.
Fans will be pleased to find recipes for iconic Nomad drinks like the Madison Park Smash and Satan's Circus, a subtly spicy drink made with rye, Thai bird chili-infused Aperol, Cherry Heering, and lemon juice. The two-book price tag is steep at $100, but we're still excited to see what the James Beard Award-winning bar has in store for us home drinkers.
One Drink at a Time
It's open season for tackling the nuances and histories of specific cocktails. Drinks like the Old Fashioned and Negroni are so deeply rooted in history, it's great to see those stories unearthed and celebrated in complete book form.
Artfully written by the New York Times drinks writer Robert O. Simonson, The Old Fashioned digs into the speculated origin story of the drink and explores its relevance to pop culture today. Simonson blows the lid off what seems like a relatively simple topic with equal parts authority and adoration, and more than half of the 158 pages are filled with cocktail recipes, covering classics, standard variations, and innovative spins. Bonus: The beautiful photos shot by Daniel Krieger help this easily double as a coffee table art book.
Gary "Gaz" Regan, eccentric author of The Joy of Mixology (you might also recognize his name from the line of popular orange bitters) is spilling ink again, but this time he's tackling the singular topic of one of the bar industry's most ubiquitous darlings—the Negroni. With a healthy dose of reverence mixed with his signature sass, Regan susses out the truths and myths of the cocktail's storied beginnings before jumping into an excellent compilation of recipes. The flush recipe section (who knew there could be so many variations on the three-ingredient drink!) follows the standard "classics and modern twists" paradigm, peppered with playful quotes from industry leaders. Regan even tackles large format Negronis for party situations and a few special treats like Negroni slushies and ice cream as well.
Spritz by Talia Baiocchi and Leslie Pariseau (Spring 2016)
Next spring, the sharp minds behind PUNCH will release a fresh exploration of this category of fizzy pre-dinner drinks. Chapters will investigate the evolving history of the aperitivo, cultural practices surrounding consumption, and details on the drink's revival. Baiocchi told us that the recipe section of the book will include traditional versions, modern takes, and "cousins" of the spritz: that is, "drinks that maintain the bitter, low alcohol, bubbly bit but take some liberties." For photography, they've signed the talented Los Angeles-based team Dylan + Jeni.
Specialties and Recipes
From specific drink ingredients to general recipe books, here are a few other brand new books that we're excited about.
Portland bartender Jacob Grier shines a light on beer cocktails in this attractive guide. Sure, there's a great Michelada recipe, but what makes the book outstanding is how Grier digs so much deeper into the subject, revealing historic recipes for simple concoctions from the 1800s like Ale Punch and the funny-named Shandygaff (a mixture of orange brandy, lemon juice, English ale, and ginger beer). There's an entire section on hot beer cocktails—yes, hot as in temperature—and a compilation of modern gems from Grier and his contemporaries. I'll definitely try mixing up a Firecracker from Portland bartender Lauren Scott, featuring Hefeweizen, rye whiskey, Aperol, lemon juice, simple syrup, and orange bitters.
The cocktail world has been buzzing about sherry for a few years now, so it's only natural that an astute author would pick up on the whispers and compile a complete guide to the subject for those who might not already be deep into wine-nerdom. Talia Baoicchi, editor-in-chief of PUNCH, does so with sharp wit and engaging descriptions, helping make the sometimes-unfamiliar subject matter easy to digest for the uninitiated reader. Part history, part practical guide, the book is also stuffed with delectable recipes for cocktails and sprinkled with food pairing suggestions.
Author Warren Bobrow doesn't waste half a book explaining the ins and outs of whiskey itself; he just jumps straight to the good stuff—the recipes. The spirit is already the focus of dozens of guides on its history and production, so the brevity is refreshing. What's also appealing about the book is that the cocktail section is broken down by type of whiskey. Love rye? You're in luck. Wondering what to do with moonshine? There's a section for that, too. The recipes range from simple classics to obscure flavor pairings like a cocktail made with whiskey, dark rum, coconut milk, jasmine tea, and tapioca pearls.
Filling a much-needed gap of great tequila cocktail books, Chicago's Tippling Bros. hit the subject hard with some of the liquid highlights from their bar programs around the country, mingled with recipe innovations from notable bartenders like Misty Kalkofen and Jason Kosmas. Drinks like (my favorite) The Little Market, with tequila, pineapple, lime, and guajillo chili display their penchant for pairing flavors, while more basic offerings like smart margarita riffs, micheladas, and party punches are also present. Overall, there are enough recipes to keep any agave fiend satisfied. It's also nice to see a non-alcoholic section also included, to cater to those non-tipplers who still want to fiesta. Get ready to agave when the book releases in late April.
Few writers have their finger on the pulse of a movement more clearly than writer and Imbibe Magazine editor Paul Clarke, who has followed the topic since its very early days back in the 2000s via his blog, The Cocktail Chronicles (and for a few years, here on Serious Eats). Clarke says his upcoming book is "mixology for the masses," straying from today's trend of specialization and hyper-complicated recipes. The pages hold user-friendly recipes for classics and contemporary beverages: Clarke hopes it's a "useful introduction to those first embarking on a voyage of cocktail discovery, as well as an entertaining guide for those already well acquainted with great drinks."
Note: Author received sample books for review consideration.